“It means whatever you think it means.”
For most of my life I had no understanding of that sentence. When I consumed any kind of art, my focus instantly fell on figuring out the intent and inspiration of the artist, while ignoring what the art stirred within myself. I assumed figuring out artist’s intent was *the definition* of art appreciation.
It wasn’t until maybe ten years ago, while analyzing a Ben Fold song, that I really understood that the meaning felt by the consumer of the art was much more important than whatever inspiration or intent the artist originally had. This realization opened the world to me.
Before the awakening I felt that art was always trying to send a specific message. Afterwards, I realized that good art doesn’t do that- good art gets you to generate your own message, as long as you’re open to receiving it.
The Beginner’s Guide is good art; it means whatever you think it means. As such, people struggle to write reviews of it, they mostly write about how they can’t explain it, or how it made them cry, or eject out of the conversation completely and say “It’s just good, buy it.”
I’m going to do my best to describe – not the game itself, but what it means to me. Your mileage may vary.
First and foremost, The Beginner’s Guide teaches. These lessons are enumerated below.
- Intent and interpretation are separate
The Beginner’s Guide shows, with a very concrete and literal example, that the interpretation of the consumer of art is on a completely different plain of existence from the artist. I think this is worth the price of admission, this is a lesson that we all need to learn (and be reminded of) on a regular basis. It doesn’t matter what you did or said. What really matters is what the consumer interpreted.
- Interpretation is not the artist’s job
As an artist, how the consumer interprets your art is not your responsibility. As an artist, you create; how the consumer interprets is on them.This is something that currently keeps me from creating, I don’t know how people will interpret my work, and that scares me. The Beginner’s Guide was a good reminder that as an artist, interpretation is not my concern.
- Restrictions kill it
Lastly, The Beginner’s Guide teaches us that art is only fulfilling if the artist is not burdened with expectations, externally imposed limitations, or modifications by others after completion.Modifications by others is a theme I’ve seen elsewhere (first example that comes to mind is a Daria episode) but it always been a ‘principal’ or ethics thing in other examples. The Beginner’s Guide manages to show how it’s a very real impact on the artist’s capabilities – modifications by others doesn’t affect only the impacted piece, it impacts the artist’s mindset for future pieces.
- Sharing art can create restrictions and expectations
This is why so many artist keep their art to themselves, or otherwise go to great lengths to avoid and ignore the very people who love their work. Talking to the consumers can create expectations and even restrictions on future work. Fans kill the artist.
The Beginner’s Guide’s master stroke, however, is hidden in the title itself.
The biggest blocker to creativity is simply getting from zero to one, leaving the old behind, getting through the scary blank space and on to the next thing.
It’s hidden under a pile of misdirection, but the jump through the void from zero to one is a recurring theme in The Beginner’s Guide. The journey through that negative space – what it takes to traverse it, and the dangers of getting stuck there – is the primary lesson.
In the end, the game is exactly what it says it is – a guide for beginning.
Your beginning may be a new creative project, an new interpretation of existing art, or even a new beginning to your approach to life.
Figuring out that piece is up to you.